Report on debt fires up debate

The parliamentary committee debating the 2003 budget proposal erupted in acrimony yesterday over the opposition New Democracy party’s accusations of creative accounting, before it walked out in an expression of anger at the absence of Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis. At the center of the furor was a report by the State Audit Council made public Monday which claimed that in 2001 state spending had been 52.53 billion euros – not 48.13 billion – which would add 3.9 percent of GDP to the 1.2 percent deficit announced by Eurostat last month. The government had initially declared a modest surplus in 2001. Christodoulakis, who was abroad, rushed back and attacked the State Audit Council’s «ignorant authors,» alleging that its report served political aims. Before ND walked out, Finance Undersecretary Giorgos Floridis had charged that the Council, whose duty is to keep watch over the legality of state finances, had exceeded its constitutional authority. «Who will judge the State Audit Council when it acts unconstitutionally?» he demanded, enraging ND deputies further. The government says the amount reported by the Council is a decade’s worth of wages and tax returns that were already paid and thus not included in budgets. Proposing major changes to the eurozone’s troubled Stability Pact, the European Commission said yesterday that Greece and Italy «give most cause for concern» regarding overall debt levels, which in their cases are over 100 percent of GDP and rising.

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